1. So is anyone surprised that the Nationals went just 2-2 in their crucial four-game series at lowly Miami? This series epitomized the Nats this season, especially offensively. The Nats were great in the 10-3 win on Thursday night and the 9-1 win on Friday night, combining for 19 runs, 29 hits, 14 walks and 11-for-30 with runners in scoring position. Then came the 2-1 10-inning loss on Saturday night and a 5-0 loss on Sunday, combining for just one run, seven hits and 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position. Dave Martinez talked after that loss on Sunday about the Nats having been “flat.” Seriously, how does that happen? Everyone on the planet knew that this series was going to play a major role in whether the Nats will be buyers or sellers at the non-waiver trade deadline on Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern. I got a kick out of Adam Eaton’s comments after the game: “Every single series from here on out should be a playoff series where we’ve got to win it. We’ve got to win every series. It’s gotta happen now. It can’t happen next week. It can’t happen the week after. It’s got to happen now.” Uh, Adam, where ya been? “Now” was a week ago.
2. Did the Nats get screwed in the 2-1 10-inning loss at Miami on Saturday night? Yes and no (how’s that for a strong opinion?).
The Marlins’ one-run 10th came against Kelvin Herrera and in the following fashion: a leadoff first-pitch bunt single by Magneuris Sierra, a catcher-interference error by Spencer Kieboom off a bunt at Miguel Rojas, a bloop single by Brian Anderson and a walk-off bloop RBI single by J.T. Realmuto. So you start with this: the Nats lost this crucial game on two bunts and two bloop singles. That’s brutal, especially when you consider that Realmuto’s walk-off bloop RBI single fell right by the right-field line and perhaps would have been caught by Bryce Harper had he been stationed in right field as opposed to first base, as Dave Martinez had (correctly) gone with Bryce at first base as part of a five-man infield with the bases loaded, no outs and the ultra-fast Sierra on third (he made it from home to first on his bunt hit in 3.46 seconds, the Marlins’ fastest time since Statcast was introduced in 2015).
The controversy had to do with the catcher-interference error by Kieboom, who stepped in front of Rojas to field the ball but after Rojas had done like a drop step (i.e., stepped back) off bunting. The rule for catcher’s interference is very wordy and complex, but there is a comment on the rule that seems to say that what Kieboom did was legal, as “when a catcher and batter-runner going to first base have contact when the catcher is fielding the ball, there is generally no violation and nothing should be called.” What seemed to really hurt the Nats was Rojas selling what Kieboom did and gesturing toward home-plate umpire Tim Timmons while running toward first. Dave Martinez argued the call, but not all that forcefully, and then sounded off on the call after the game. I do think that the Nats got screwed on the call, and as was the case with Dusty Baker on the passed ball on Matt Wieters that should have never been allowed thanks to Javier Baez’s backswing in that fateful four-run Cubs fifth off Max Scherzer in the NLDS Game 5 loss to the Cubs last October, Davey needed to argue this much more forcefully. The bottom line, though, is that the Nats lost that game at Miami on Saturday mainly because of their inconsistent offense, which produced one run in 10 innings on five hits and three walks and went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. The Nats had no answer for the changeup-throwing Trevor Richards (six scoreless innings, eight strikeouts) and five relievers from one of the worst bullpens in the majors; that’s why the Nats lost on Saturday night.
3. Trea Turner was great over the first three games of the four-game split at Miami, going 7-for-17 with a homer, a two-run triple, a double and three singles. But he went 0-for-3 in the 5-0 loss at the Marlins on Sunday afternoon, and that was just the beginning. Offensive tweets from Turner in 2011 and 2012 when he was playing at N.C. State surfaced on Sunday, leading to he and the Nats organization putting out separate statements late Sunday night. The tweets included racially insensitive language and the usage of a homophobic slur. Turner’s tweets were posted by a Twitter user who cited an earlier posting of old, offensive tweets from Atlanta starting pitcher Sean Newcomb, who dealt with his own firestorm on Sunday after falling one strike short of a no-hitter in a 4-1 win over the Dodgers (a Nats fan’s account actually drew attention to Newcomb’s tweets). And all of this comes off Milwaukee reliever Josh Hader having gotten in trouble recently for old, offensive tweets. I am not big of vilifying people for stupid things they did in their teens and early 20s, but the frequency with which athletes (and people in general) get in trouble for things on social media from years ago boggles my mind – how if you’re a public figure do you not delete these things or have someone do that for you? How if you’re a pro sports team do you not have some slappy, as Jay Gruden would say, go through every player’s social media accounts and delete things that are offensive? Put aside where the feelings behind these tweets are coming from – that’s a different (but also worthy) conversation. It’s not that hard not to have to deal with these firestorms.
4. The Nats’ four-game split at Miami was another so-so series for Bryce Harper. He batted in the no. 3 spot as the starting center fielder in Games 1,2 and 4 and in the no. 2 spot as the starting right fielder in the 2-1 10-inning loss at the Marlins on Saturday night and went a combined 4-for-12 with four walks. But just one of the four hits was an extra-base hit, and he struck out seven times. Bryce now has struck out in 16 consecutive games, the longest such streak of his career. He now has 117 strikeouts this season; he had 99 all of last season. Bryce in the 10-3 win at the Marlins on Thursday night had a one-out RBI double in the top of the seventh and a walk but also three strikeouts. He was good in the 9-1 win at the Marlins on Friday night, providing a two-out RBI single on an 0-2 pitch in the Nats’ five-run eighth, a one-out single on an 0-2 pitch in the top of the fifth and an RBI sac fly in the top of the third.
5. 19-year-old Juan Soto went 6-for-15 with two walks in the four-game split at Miami and was especially impressive in Games 1 and 2. He in the 10-3 win at the Marlins on Thursday night had a two-out solo homer to right field off Dan Straily in the top of the fourth, a single and two intentional walks. The #ChildishBambino became the first teenager to be intentionally walked twice in a game since Robin Yount in 1975. And Soto in the 9-1 win at the Marlins on Friday night had a leadoff homer on a bomb to right field in the top of the second, a two-out two-run triple to the right-center-field gap in the Nats’ five-run eighth and a single. The homer was no. 13 on the season for him, tying Mickey Mantle for the sixth most home runs in a season by a teenager.
6. Just when ya thought that things couldn’t get much worse for the Nationals’ rotation, they did on Thursday morning with the surprising news that Stephen Strasburg had been placed back on the 10-day disabled list, this time with a cervical nerve impingement. So he lasted for exactly one start off having missed a about month and-a-half with right-shoulder inflammation.
In case you aren’t keeping track of Strasburg injuries over the years, here you go. He underwent Tommy John surgery in Sept. 2010. He missed more than a month in 2015 due to a left oblique strain. He missed time in 2016 due to an upper-back strain and right-elbow soreness and then was shut down that September due to a right-forearm flexor-mass strain. He missed nearly a month last season due to a right-elbow nerve impingement and then, of course, we famously had the drama of him being sick but then ultimately starting the Nats’ NLDS Game 4 win at the Cubs. And now this season he has missed time with right-shoulder inflammation and now this cervical nerve impingement. There are many things we can debate about Strasburg, but one thing that is undeniable is that he has a lengthy injury history.
The particularly bizarre aspect about this latest instance of Strasburg going on the DL is how we found out about it. Normally, a team announces that a player has been placed on a DL or even tells you that that is going to happen. Instead, the Nats just out Strasburg on the DL without making an announcement, as the transaction appeared on MLB.com, and then a while later came an actual announcement by the Nats. Is this some massive deal? No. But this does again speak to the Nats’ history of injury mystery/confusion/concealment/mishandling. Why didn’t they just announce the move sooner?
7. The Nats’ bullpen had a good series in the four-game split at Miami, allowing just one run (unearned) in 10 1/3 innings. But the rotation struggled in Games 1 and 4.
Jeremy Hellickson in the 5-0 loss at the Marlins on Sunday afternoon struggled for a fourth time in six starts since returning from a right-hamstring strain, allowing five runs (three earned) in 4 2/3 innings on a double, seven singles and a hit-by-pitch. All five runs came with two outs. He allowed three consecutive two-out singles, the last of which was a first-pitch RBI single by the opposing starting pitcher, Jose Urena, in the Marlins’ one-run second. Hellickson allowed a two-out RBI double to Martin Prado on a 1-2 pitch in the Marlins’ one-run third. And Hellickson allowed a two-out RBI single to Prado off him having been down in the count 1-2 and a two-out RBI double to Miguel Rojas in the Marlins’ three-run fifth, which also included a run-scoring error by Daniel Murphy.
The corresponding roster move to the Nats placing Stephen Strasburg on the 10-day disabled list on Thursday morning with a cervical nerve impingement was the selection of the contract of Tommy Milone from Triple-A Syracuse. The Nats took Milone in the 10th round of the 2008 draft, dealt him to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez trade of Dec. 2011 and signed him back as a non-roster invitee to major-league spring training this past December. He had a 4.19 ERA over 20 starts for Triple-A Syracuse this season and yet received this call-up, giving you an idea of just how shallow the Nats’ organizational starting-pitching depth is right now. And sure enough, what happened in Thursday night’s 10-3 win at Miami? Milone got ambushed, giving up three runs in the bottom of the first: leadoff single by Starlin Castro on a 1-2 pitch, single by Brian Anderson, RBI double by J.T. Realmuto on a 1-2 pitch, RBI sac fly by George Mason product Justin Bour despite him having been down in the count 0-2, two-out first-pitch RBI single by Cameron Maybin. But to Milone’s credit, he did settle down after that three-run Marlins first, tossing four scoreless innings with six strikeouts, and he issued no walks in the outing. Something that has been impressive about Milone at Triple-A Syracuse this season is his strikeout-to-walk ratio: 113 versus 24 in 109 2/3 innings. Milone struck out Anderson on four pitches with runners on second and third with two outs in the bottom of the second. Milone struck out Bour on three pitches for the second out in the bottom of the third. Milone struck out Anderson on three pitches for the second out in the bottom of the fifth. The final line of three runs in five innings ended up not being a disaster, and the Nats’ offense erupted to where they won in a rout.
8. Max Scherzer celebrated his 34th birthday on Friday by dominating the Marlins in the 9-1 win at Miami: one run (unearned) in eight innings on 11 strikeouts versus a double, two singles, a walk and a hit-by-pitch. Max reached the 200-strikeout plateau for a seventh consecutive season, joining Walter Johnson, Tom Seaver and Roger Clemens as the only pitchers with at least 200 strikeouts in seven straight seasons. This was Max’s 75th career game with at least 10 strikeouts, passing Bob Gibson and Sam McDowell for the eighth most in major-league history. This was Max’s third-best start of the season per Bill James’ Game Score metric. And Max got on base twice, providing a single and a hit-by-pitch. The rest of the Nats’ rotation is a major question mark right now. Max is not.
9. Saturday night’s 2-1 10-inning loss at Miami came despite Gio Gonzalez having his best start in two months: one run in seven innings on three singles and four walks. The four walks bother you, as Gio continues to walk the ballpark, and in fact he began the bottom of the fourth by issuing three consecutive walks. But Gio, to his credit, allowed just one run in that inning. This was one of the great shames of that loss on Saturday night: Gio had his best outing since May 28, and yet the Nats didn’t win. There are still reasons to worry about him, as he threw just 67 of his 114 pitches for strikes in this game. But the run prevention certainly was there.